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Andres Izarra

Venezuela’s Communications and Information Minister Andres Izarra, dismissed accusations made in The Washington Post newspaper, about the persecution of journalists and censorship of the press by the Venezuelan government.

In an article titled "Chavez’s Censorship, Where ’Disrespect’ Can Land You in Jail," published on March 28, Post columnist Jackson Diehl asserted that "beginning this month journalists or other independent activists accused by the government of the sort of offenses alleged by Izarra can be jailed without due process and sentenced to up to 30 years."

Izarra responded to the Diehl article in a letter sent to The Washington Post, accusing the columnist of lying, and The Post of being badly informed. "You are lying to your readers, Mister Diehl... because you are confusing the law that protects children from obscenity in the broadcast media with the laws on national security and the President’s security, which are stricter in the United States," Izarra said. "The press is freer in Venezuela than in the United States," the minister added.

As evidence of Chavez’s alleged campaign to destroy "what was once the most stable and prosperous democracy in Latin America," Jackson Diehl cited in his article a new media content law (Law of Responsibility on Radio and Television), which "subjects broadcast media to heavy fines or the loss of their licenses for disseminating information deemed ’contrary to national security’."

Izarra noted that the United States has laws on national security and the President’s security, which are stricter than Venezuela’s. The Minister cited the US Code, Title 18, Section 871, which covers "threats against the President and presidential successors," and prohibits any offense or threat made against the President of the United States.

"...The [US] Patriot Act together with an Executive Order gives President Bush the power to determine when a person represents a threat to the United States. If the person is a U.S. citizen, he or she can be detained for an indefinite length of time without rights, be declared an enemy of the state, and even lose his citizenship. If the person is not a U.S. citizen, he or she can be detained without any rights and be brought before a secret military tribunal without anyone, not even his family members, finding out," Izarra said.

Venezuela’s media has been criticized for openly supporting undemocratic methods to oust President Chavez, including a coup d’etat in 2002, in which commercial TV stations taped and broadcasted calls to overthrow the government made by military officers and civilian leaders opposed to President Chavez. The day of the coup, the El Nacional newspaper ran an extra edition with the prominent headline "The final battle will be at Miraflores," calling people to confront the government at the Miraflores presidential palace.

Former journalist Izarra mentioned that while being news director at RCTV, Venezuela’s second most watched TV network, he had to resign when RCTV and other networks decided to censor the civil uprising aimed at restoring democratically elected Chavez after the coup d’etat.

The media also heavily supported and promoted a lock-out and strike of the oil industry aimed at ousting Chavez, which caused an estimated 14 billion dollars in loses to the Venezuelan economy. "More than 13,000 political propaganda advertisements were broadcast in a two month period in order to animate an economically devastating and socially destabilizing general strike directed at overthrowing Chavez," noted Izarra.

In his article, Diehl justifies the Venezuelan media "aggressive opposition" to the government by noting that "Chavez is moving to eliminate critical journalists and create in Venezuela the kind of state-controlled media environment in which a minister of information such as Izarra is all-powerful."

Izarra also suggested a lack of independence by the Post, citing among other things, declassified documents from the U.S. State Department "concerning the US Office of Public Diplomacy, managed by Otto Reich during the 1970’s, which demonstrate that the Washington Post was one of the newspapers used by the US government to spread its black propaganda against the Sandinista government." Izarra went on to say that the Bush administration cannot "control the globalized world with the same methods and the same men as in the 1970s."

Negative media coverage of Venezuela increases

Articles criticizing the Venezuelan government have become more numerous in recent months. Negative media coverage, along with almost daily negative comments about Venezuela by U.S. officials, have prompted Venezuelan officials, as well as several journalists and activists, to alert about a "media campaign" similar to those used in the past against governments opposed by the U.S., as preamble for bigger attacks or an armed U.S. invasion.

Two of Diehl’s first seven columns published in The Washington Post in 2005, have criticized the Venezuelan government. The Washington Post has also published several editorials in recent months, criticizing the Venezuelan leader, and urging the U.S. government to act against him. The Wall Street Journal also frequently features negative news and opinions of Venezuela, while ignoring the country’s unprecedented economic growth that reached 17% in 2004, the highest in the world.

The April 11 2005 issue of the U.S. based National Review magazine, features a cover story by former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, titled "Latin America’s Terrible Two: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez constitute an axis of evil", which alerts against an "emerging axis of subversion forming between Cuba and Venezuela."

Earlier this year, CIA director Porter Goss classified Venezuela as the top "potentially unstable country" in Latin America, while Chavez alerted the world to Washington’s alleged intentions to assassinate him.

A few weeks ago, a group of almost 400 Venezuelan journalists issued a statement denouncing a "campaign" from the United States against Venezuela. The journalists argued that negative and frequent media coverage of Venezuela in the U.S., as well as the frequent comments by high ranking officials at the State Department, the CIA, and The White House, amount to a "campaign" similar to those applied against countries which were later invaded by the U.S. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in February, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez, alerted the governments of the Americas that U.S. "interventionism" in Venezuela is a "prelude to aggression."

Last February, Minister Izarra presented a report detailing an alleged "anti-Chavez bias" in recent media coverage of Venezuela in the United States. Izarra asserted that "in light of the large influx of erroneous and de-contextualized information, it is evident that the U.S. private media has joined forces with the U.S. Department of State and spokespeople of the Bush administration in an effort to launch a ’smear campaign’ against the Venezuelan government." Izarra recalled how Otto Reich had headed a "dirty war" in the 1980’s to plant news articles and journalists so as to discredit progressive movements in Latin America.

A non official translation of the letter sent by Izarra to Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post is presented below.